Appalachian Transition is devoted to ideas for a more just, sustainable and prosperous future in Central Appalachia. We are at a critical moment in our region. The time has arrived to talk about the coming transition of our economy, workforce and communities. This site is a resource for that conversation.

Appalachian Transition Blog

Structure and process for SOAR initiative announced - it's a good next step

Governor Steve Beshear and Representative Hal Rogers announced the structure and process for the Shaping Our Appalachian Region initiative yesterday in Hazard. We’ve been waiting for this announcement since Dec. 9, 2013, when an almost 2,000-person crowd showed up at the SOAR summit in Pikeville to share their ideas and suggestions about eastern Kentucky’s economic future.

Severance Tax Dollars Need Stronger Overall Strategy

This blog post comes from Jason Bailey at the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy. It can also be found on their website.

The House version of the new state budget takes $20 million of coal severance money the governor’s budget had allocated to region-wide programs and local governments and shifts money to over 400 earmarked local projects, many smaller than $10,000. CN2 Pure Politics and the Louisville Courier-Journal have stories exploring potential debate over these changes. It's become commonplace for the coal severance budget to contain a wide array of projects and programs, but without a clear strategy for how they add up to economic development in the state's coal-dependent regions.

Originally, much of the coal severance money went to prop up the General Fund. In 1992, the state passed legislation intended to send half of the money back to coal-dependent regions, to be divided into two streams: a portion for local government budgets and a portion to be used for economic diversification. However, the economic diversification monies were restricted to one strategy—the construction of industrial parks to try to lure industry.

After a series of regional industrial parks were built in eastern Kentucky with little success in finding tenants, the legislature began taking those monies—known as the Local Government Economic Development Fund (LGEDF) —for specific projects in each county earmarked in the budget. The General Assembly also began to issue bonds for water and sewer and other projects to be paid back with future coal severance revenue.

After more than a decade of this practice, the dollars that had accumulated in LGEDF accounts are now gone, a substantial amount of debt is owed on already-bonded projects and severance tax revenue is dwindling in eastern Kentucky as coal declines. The House proposes to keep the money flowing for local projects in part by reducing funding for regional coalfield programs that had been supported through the severance tax budget in recent years including mine safety, Save the Children, and the Read to Achieve program, and by giving local governments slightly less money than the governor had proposed. Projects funded in the House budget include senior centers, volunteer fire department equipment, water lines and parks improvement in coal counties.

The House’s proposed allocation of coal severance monies (not counting the 50% that goes to the state's General Fund) is below:

Worker-Owned Cooperatives for Appalachia

What if the people who are employed by a business are the same people who own it? How would that change the decisions that get made regarding wages, benefits, community participation and the workplace culture? Worker-owned cooperatives are an answer to corporate business models that might not consider the worker impacts of the decisions made at the highest levels. 

A recent op-ed in the Lexington Herald-Leader promotes this business model as an option for eastern Kentucky.

Erik Reece, the author of the op-ed, went to Cleveland to see how the cooperative model is impacting that city’s revitalization efforts:

Eventually, however, my research led to Cleveland, where I found an economic model that, I believe, would have saved the West Virginia miners and could go a long way toward reclaiming the foundering economy of Eastern Kentucky.

Five years ago, the CEOs of Cleveland Clinic, the Cleveland Foundation and some surrounding universities and hospitals decided they had to do something about the shuttered businesses and derelict neighborhoods that surrounded them. These "anchor institutions"— they weren't going anywhere and they had resources — realized they spent $3.5 billion on goods and services from outside the city. Why not try to redirect some of that purchasing power to create an economy that would employ men and women from the surrounding neighborhoods?

If only 10 percent of that $3.5 billion was redirected locally, it would inject $350 million into an area facing 25 percent unemployment, they reasoned.

Great crowd and lots to learn at KFTC’s fifth annual Growing Appalachia conference

We are pleased to share with you a report from Kentuckians for the Commonwealth's fifth successful Growing Appalachia conference, written by Lisa Abbott.

About 190 people attended KFTC’s fifth annual Growing Appalachia conference in Prestonsburg, a record for the one-day event focused on ways people in eastern Kentucky can earn or save money or grow a business through agriculture and clean energy solutions. 

“What we are seeing across eastern Kentucky is nothing short of revolutionary,” said panelist Ralph Davis who manages the Floyd County Farmer’s market. “People are returning to family farming. They are taking ownership of their lives and doing something new. Farming is an act of creation. And it is one of the ways this region can heal.”

Among the crowd were many students and teachers, including 15 middle schoolers from Letcher County, high school students from Floyd County, and college students from the University of Pikeville and Big Sandy Community and Technical College, among others. As a teacher from Letcher County explained, “We are just getting started this year with a garden at our school and have plans to build a greenhouse. We are all learning together and thought this would be a great experience.”

The conference featured 9 workshops, from which people could choose 3, plus a panel discussion about local community development efforts in Elkhorn City, Whitesburg, Prestonsburg, and Hazard. Workshop topics included organic pest control, bio-intensive gardening, farm-to-institutional marketing, ways to use wood for energy, collecting and marketing wild edibles and medicinal herbs, do-it-yourself home weatherization, on-farm renewable energy, and two workshops featuring panels of people who are farming and starting new businesses in the mountains.

In a workshop about marketing farm produce to schools, hospitals and other institutions, Terry Crist, who serves as Executive Chef at Manchester Memorial Hospital, described his definition of local food. “I don’t define local as anything grown within a 100 or 200 mile radius. To me, local food is grown by someone I know. The relationship between producers and institutions is like a marriage. You learn together over time.”

Two experienced home-builders led a workshop about do-it-yourself strategies to tighten up leaky houses and reduce home energy costs. “Our specialty is building energy efficient, affordable homes for citizens of Harlan, Leslie and Bell counties,” explained Blake Enlow, executive director of a nonprofit housing group known as COAP. He and Chris Woolery, an energy specialist who works with MACED, discussed many of the least cost, highest value energy upgrades homeowners can make. “Insulating the attic and floors is like putting a hat and socks on your house,” Woolery explained. “The important thing to keep in mind is that these investments pay for themselves.”

Appalachian Agriculture is all about connections

“I am an Eastern Kentucky business owner. I am a baker of corn bread, an heirloom seed saver and a hillbilly farmer. I offer no apologies. I am Appalachia Proud." 

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